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How Keroche Foundation is growing young entrepreneurs

Monday May 29 2017

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When Njoki Karuoya, the CEO of Keroche Foundation, asked me, a teetotaller, to join the Keroche Foundation Young Entrepreneurs Mentorship Program as one of its volunteer mentors, I was sceptical, wondering how a brewer could influence youths positively.

Nine months down the road, I have been converted into a serious believer.

The then reticent-looking mentees are now confident, innovative and on their way to becoming successful entrepreneurs. Last week, the second batch graduated at a colourful ceremony held at the prestigious Radisson Blu Hotel in Upper Hill, Nairobi. 

The occasion was graced by none other than Tabitha Karanja, the soft-spoken mother of four and shrewd businesswoman at the helm of the Naivasha-based multibillion-shilling, world-class brewery.

Accompanying her was the Keroche Board chairman, her husband, Joe Karanja, and other dignitaries.

Although she is portrayed in the media as a brazen fighter, watching her closely reveals her to have a great sense of humility. 

She is perhaps the role model of our time, having succeeded in Kenya’s cutthroat beer market, which has turned out to be the waterloo for a number of global alcohol makers. Now she wants to conquer Africa.

Tabitha Karanja, CEO of Keroche Breweries.
Tabitha Karanja, CEO of Keroche Breweries. PHOTO | COURTESY

She understands that without innovation, or creative destruction, as American economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter called it, the organisation will never be sustainable. 


In keeping with her innovation ideals, Keroche Breweries has firmly cemented its position as the first brewery in Africa to use cutting-edge, ultra-modern and high-tech, 21st century brewing technology to produce two high-quality, premium beers that they say are natural, sugar-free and have no hangover effects, namely Summit Lager and Summit Malt.

Tabitha's resilience, tenacity and sharp business sense have won her numerous accolades, top among them the 2016 Global Inspirational Women Leadership Award presented by the Centre for Economic and Leadership Development (CELD), an organisation that has a special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC).

There is also the National Organisation of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL Women) from the United States, which honoured her during the South America-Africa-Middle East-Asia Women Summit (SAMEAWS) in Dubai, UAE. 

Tabitha started the Keroche Foundation in 2014. It was partly to give back to society by giving a helping hand to both upcoming and established entrepreneurs who have the desire to grow and expand their businesses.

Through the aptly named ‘Hand-Up Initiative,’ Tabitha shares her powerful experiences and lessons to a select group of young entrepreneurs through an intensive nine-month mentorship and training programme.


She wants to use Keroche as a platform to develop young people to be like her, a successful brewer who started Keroche in 1979 with only Sh200,000 and took it through thick and thin to make it a multibillion-shilling enterprise. 

This did not come easily. The company fought with competitors, tax authorities, government bias toward multinational investors in beer as well as malicious propaganda aimed at eliminating local entrepreneurs who wanted to build home-grown brands. 

So, when she told the gathering that success does not come easily, her statement landed with added credibility.

This was the second cohort to go through the rigorous programme and from their testimonies, they have succeeded hugely.

The mentees view success quite broadly. They don’t just think of success as having a ton of money, although they acknowledge that money counts.

They are quite happy to have developed extensive social networks, perfected their products and services, and understood the market better. Above all, the Keroche programme as imbued them with confidence to stand on their own. 

They handled media interviews excellently, which, some admitted ,was one thing they were not able to handle before they went through the programme.

Tabitha has pioneered a model for developing sustainable enterprises that many existing programmes like the Youth Fund and the Women's Enterprise Fund should emulate. There is too much focus on finance when it is not just in money that youth want to succeed as entrepreneurs.


I am sure you’ve heard of the proverb “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is exactly what Tabitha meant when she reiterated her “Hand-Up Initiative” in her address, “Give someone a lifting hand not money.”   

She has indeed given a lifting hand to many young people who in turn have given jobs to more than 300 other youths and indirectly supported more than 400 other people. 

This model proves that government should pay attention to and give incentive for large companies to nurture young entrepreneurs by taking them through incubation processes, through to start-up and growth. 

This is important because research has shown time and again that a majority of micro-enterprises, mostly owned by individual members of a family, are held back by internal institutions such as culture, traditions and negative social ties, particularly in poorer parts of the country.


In simpler language, where these internal institutions are negatively slanted, no matter how much money you pump into their economic status, they cannot think beyond their own tribal ties, even when they know they are doing poorly in that cocoon. 

This, however, can change, and that is what the Keroche Foundation has demonstrated.

Jayne Okoth, one of the foundation’s mentees, grew up in the Mathare slums. She is founder and CEO of Rapunzel Hair Affair & Porsh Hair, and through the programme, she has moved from a being hairdresser to a manufacturer of hairpieces. 

Here is an excerpt about Jayne from the Foundation’s magazine, The Titans:

She is humble yet resilient. Not many people know that when she started out her entrepreneurial journey, she slept on the floor of her salon because she did not have sufficient resources to run a house and a salon. Through sheer grit, determination and strong-willed focus, Jayne mastered her craft and gradually became a legend. Her business is still evolving, years after the salon was first recognized as the Best Salon in Kenya, a feat that she has continued to win till today.

Mentees were grateful to Njoki, a media and communications expert and former UN staffer, for putting together a strong team of volunteer mentors with expertise from virtually every aspect of management including leadership, public relations, marketing, entrepreneurship and strategy to carefully work with these young people for nine months.

Honouring a graduate of the Keroche mentorship
Honouring a graduate of the Keroche mentorship programme. PHOTO | COURTESY | KEROCHE FOUNDATION

The impact of the nine graduates has been significant. Besides creating jobs, they too are getting into helping others in their own corporate social responsibility initiatives, and have the ambition to grow these enterprises to corporate level in the shortest period possible.


Prior to starting these enterprises, they searched for a great opportunity to exploit. They didn’t just replicate, as many do only to realise that the enterprise will not celebrate its third birthday. If we had more corporations emulating Keroche, more start-ups will survive beyond the two-year lifespan for many SMEs.

Christian McKay, an English stage and screen actor, once said:

“I once met a man who was a billionaire, and I said to him: 'Are you a self-made man?' - and he turned around and said: 'No man is self-made;' and certainly, if you want to make films or get into television or even theatre, the amount of help that you need, the amount of people who need to give you a helping hand is extraordinary.”  

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter:@bantigito